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NATIONAL POLITICS AND THE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM.
DELIVERED AT THE COOPER INSTITUTE, NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 28, 1860.
THE SPEAKER'S PREMISES.
Mr. President and Fellow Citizens of New York: The facts with which I shall deal this evening are mainly old and familiar; nor is there anything new in the general use I shall make of them. If there shall be any novelty, it will be in the mode of presenting the facts, and the inferences and observations following that presentation. In his speech, last autumn, at Columbus, Ohio, as reported in the New York Times, Senator Douglas said:
Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now."
I fully indorse this, and I adopt it as a text for this discourse. [Applause.] I so adopt it because it furnishes a precise and an agreed starting-point for a discussion between the Republicans and that wing of the Democracy headed by Senator Douglas. It simply leaves the inquiry, What was the understanding those fathers had of the question mentioned? What is the frame of government under which we live? The answer must be, the Constitution of the United States. That Constitution consists of the original, framed in 1787, (and under which the present Government first went into operation,) and twelve subsequently framed amendments, the first ten of which were framed in 1789.
THE FATHERS OF THE CONSTITUTION.
Who were our fathers that framed the Constitution? The "thirty-nine" who signed the original instrument may be fairly called our fathers who framed that part of the present Government. It is almost exactly true to say they framed it, and it is altogether true to say they fairly represented the opinion and sentiment of the whole nation at that time. Their names being familiar to nearly all, and accessible to quite all, need not now be repeated. I take these "thirty-nine," for the present, as being our fathers who framed the Government under which we live." What is the question which, according to the text, those fathers understood as well and even better than we do now? It is this: "Does the proper division of local from federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Government to control as to slavery in our federal territories?"
DOUGLAS AND LINCOLN.
Upon this Douglas held the affirmative, and Republicans the negative. The affirmative and denial form an issue; and this issue, this question, is precisely what the text declares our fathers understood better than we. [Cheers.] Let us now inquire whether the "thirty-nine," or any of them, ever acted upɔn this question; and if they did, how they acted upon it, how they expressed that better understanding. In 1781, three years before the Constitution, the United States then owning the Northwestern Territory, and no other, the Congress of the Confederation had before them the question of prohibiting slavery in that territory; and four of the thirty-nine" who afterwards framed the Constitution were in that Congress, and voted on that question. Of these, Roger Sherman, Thomas Mifflin, and Hugh Williamson voted for the prohibition, thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory.
The other of the four, James McHenry, voted against the
prohibition, showing that for some cause he thought it improper to vote for it. In 1787, still before the Constitution, but while the Convention was in session framing it, and while the Northwestern Territory still was the only territory. owned by the United States, the same question of prohibiting slavery in the territory again came before the Congress of the Confederation, and three more of the "thirty-nine" who afterwards signed the Constitution were in that Congress, and voted on that question. They were William Blount, William Few, and Abraham Baldwin, and they all voted for the prohibition, thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory.
THIE ORDINANCE OF 1787.
This time the prohibition became a law, being a part of what is now well known as the Ordinance of 1787. The question of federal control of slavery in the territories seems not to have been directly before the Convention which framed the original Constitution; and hence it is not recorded that the "thirtynine," or any of them, while engaged on that instrument, expressed any opinion on that precise question. In 1790, by the first Congress which sat under the Constitution, an act was passed to enforce the Ordinance of 1787, including the prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory. The bill for this act was reported by one of the "thirty-nine," Thomas Fitzsimmons, then a member of the House of Representatives, from Pennsylvania. It went through all its stages without a word of opposition, and finally passed both branches without yeas and nays, which is equivalent to a unanimous passage. [Cheers.] In this Congress there were sixteen of the "thirtynine" fathers who framed the original Constitution. They
John Langdon, Thomas Fitzsimmons, Richard Bassett, Nicholas Gilman, Wm. Few, George Read, Wm. S. Johnson, Abra
ham Baldwin, Pierce Butler, Roger Sherman, Rufus King, Daniel Carroll, Robert Morris, Wm. Patterson, James Madison, George Clymer.
This shows that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, properly forbade Congress to prohibit slavery in the federal territory, else both their fidelity to correct principle, and their oath to support the Constitution would have constrained them to oppose the prohibition.
OPINION OF GEORGE WASHINGTON.
Again, George Washington, another of the "thirty-nine," was then the President of the United States, and, as such, approved and signed the bill, thus completing its validity as a law, and thus showing that, in his understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory. [Loud applause.] No great while after the adoption of the original Constitution, North Carolina ceded to the Federal Government the country now constituting the State of Tennessee; and a few years later, Georgia ceded that which now constitutes the States of Mississippi and Alabama. In both deeds of session, it was made a condition by the ceding States, that the Federal Government should not prohibit slavery in the ceded country. Under these circumstances, Congress, on taking charge of these countries, did not absolutely prohibit slavery within them.
CONGRESS DID INTERFERE.
But they did interfere with it, take control of it, there, to a certain extent. In 1798 Congress organized the Ter ritory of Mississippi. In the act of organization they prohibited the bringing of slaves into the territory, from any place without the United States, by fine, and giving freedom to slaves so brought. This act passed both branches of Congress without yeas and nays. In that Congress were three of the "thirty-nine "
who framed the original Constitution. They were John Langdon, George Read, and Abraham Baldwin. They all probably voted for it. Certainly they would have placed their opposition to it upon record, if, in their understanding, any line dividing local and federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, properly forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory. [Applause.]
In 1803, the Federal Government purchased the Louisiana country. Our former territorial acquisitions came from certain of our own States, but this Louisiana country was acquired from a foreign nation. In 1804, Congress gave a territorial organization to that part of it which now constitutes the State of Louisiana. New Orleans, lying within that part, was an old and comparatively large city. There were other considerable towns and settlements, and slavery was extensively and thoroughly intermingled with the people. Congress did not, in the territorial act, prohibit slavery; but they did interfere with it, take control of it, in a more marked and extensive way than they did in the case of Mississippi.
THE LOUISIANA PROVISO.
The substance of the provision therein made, in relation to slaves, was this:
First. That no slave should be imported into the territory from foreign parts.
Second. That no slave should be carried into it who had been imported into the States since the first day of May, 1798.
Third. That no slave should be carried into it, except by the owner, and for his own use as a settler; the penalty, in all the cases, being a fine upon the violator of the law, and the freedom to the slave. [Prolonged cheers.]
This act also was passed without yeas or nays. In the Congress which passed it, there were two of the " thirty-nine." They were Abraham Baldwin and Jonathan Dayton. As stated in the case of Mississippi, it is probable they both voted for it. They would not have allowed it to pass without recording their